#102 (s5760-02/12 Tishrei)

"Retroactively Kosher"

The Rebbe, R. Chaim Meir Yechiel Shapira of Mogelnitz , stared at the vision in front of him 



Every year, immediately after Rosh Hashana, Rabbi Chaim Meir Yechiel Shapira of Mogelnitz used to seek a trusty messenger in his town for a special mission. First, he would turn over to him a significant sum of money, carefully bundled. Then, after reminding him that he was being sent not just on behalf of the Rebbe and his family but for the benefit of the entire community, he would give him a set of specific instructions.

In those days in Europe, good-quality etrogim were very difficult to come by. In many towns and villages, as in this one, there would be just one etrog for the entire Jewish populace. The Rebbe always instructed his agent to locate and purchase a beautiful esrog- hadar as the Torah calls it-not to spare any effort to locate and acquire absolutely the best one available.

One year it was extremely difficult to find a good etrog. There were only a few etrogim to be found at all, and the agent that had been sent that year recognized right away that they were all far from satisfying the Rebbe's requirements. Full of stains and blemishes, how could they possibly be considered exemplary?

Day after day the agent went from city to town, from town to village, but still was unable to find anything remotely suitable. As the Sukkot festival approached and the agent was still empty-handed and far from home, he became increasingly anxious. Would this be the first year that his fellow townsmen and their esteemed rebbe would not get to bless and perform the mitzvah with an outstanding etrog?

Shuddering, he realized that he would have to turn back towards home if he were to arrive on time for Sukkot. He decided to return via a route that would take him to a few towns that he hadn't been to yet. He would have to buy the first etrog he came across, even if it were plain or ugly. As long as it was minimally kosher. It was unthinkable that the community should remain without any etrog at all!

Late in the day he arrived at a certain village and immediately turned into the small shul (synagogue) there, to pray Mincha (the afternoon prayer). While there, he heard two of the local men talking, "Hey! Did you hear about wealthy Almoni? This year he managed to buy the most beautiful excellent etrog-a real mehudar (splendid) one."

The agent hurriedly ascertained the exact whereabouts of Mr. Almoni. He speeded to the address as fast as he could, and then stood for a moment to catch his breath at the doorstep of the magnificent house. Mouthing a silent prayer, his hand shook slightly as he reached up to knock on the door.

A servant admitted him, and showed him into the rich man's study. The agent hesitated for a long moment. What should he say? How could he possibly convince this stranger to part with the etrog? Certainly a man like that wasn't going to be interested in the money he was carrying around in his scrawny pouch!

All he could do was express his sincere feelings. He explained to his host about how the one that sent him was a genuine tzadik, an exalted person for whom maximization of every mitzvah-performing it in a manner of hidur (spendidly) -was an integral indispensable aspect of life. He himself had been travelling day and night scouring the country in an unsuccessful attempt to find an appropriately outstanding etrog for his rebbe. "Please," he concluded with a plea, "have mercy on this holy Jew. Why, he may even get sick from the disappointment if I return empty-handed. Besides, you will have a share in his great merit."

Almoni turned him down flat. He wasn't interested in any offers or explanations. The agent continued to plead.

Then, something changed. The wealthy householder's face and stance seemed to soften slightly. He sat silently for a few minutes, thinking deeply. Then he spoke.

"You say your Rabbi is a big tzadik? That he is head and shoulders above the rest of us and that all his life he has always performed mitvot in the most elevated manner possible?"

A ray of hope sparked in the agent's heart. "Yes! Yes," he exclaimed. "It's true."

"If so, perhaps we can do business," said the rich man.

"We'll pay any price you ask," the agent blurted excitedly.

"Money is not the issue here," answered Almoni quietly. "I paid a handsome sum for this glorious etrog. Thank G-d, I can afford it. And I was happy to do so. I am always prepared to spend generously in order to enhance a mitzvah, but there is one thing I cannot buy. All these years, and I have no children.

"Therefore," he continued, "I am prepared to give you my expensive incomparable etrog, but not for money. My non-negotiable price is that your holy rabbi should bless me to have a son, and that his blessing should come true within a reasonable period of time. If it comes to be, then the etrog is my gift to him. But if not, then retroactively your great rabbi and all his people will have blessed invalidly on an etrog that is not theirs."

The rich man looked the Rebbe's representative in the eye. "Do you agree? Do we have a deal?"

The silence grew and permeated the room as the stunned agent considered how to respond. Finally he came to the conclusion that really he had no choice, and accepted the proposed conditions. Receiving the etrog from the hand of its wealthy former owner, he set off straight for home.

The Rebbe carefully removed the covering, opened the box, and gingerly unwound the flax tresses. Before his eyes was one of the most splendid, perfect etrogim he had ever beheld. His joy knew no bounds. Or so it seemed, until the agent told him the conditions of the "transaction." Then his ardor cooled instantly. He slowly re-wrapped the etrog. Then he bent forward, and held his face in his hands.

For a long time Rabbi Chaim Meir Yechiel sat absolutely still, engulfed in his lofty thoughts. When at last he removed his hands and stood up from his chair, his face was pale, but a secret twinkle could be detected in his eyes.

"All right," he stated softly but firmly. "I accept upon myself this difficult condition. I will do that which I am able and bless Almoni the rich man that he and his wife should have a son. Now it is up to the Al-mighty to do His part."

A year later, on Erev Rosh Hashana, a small package arrived addressed to the Rebbe. Inside was an etrog of superior quality, along with a note in the handwriting of Almoni that announced that a son had been born to him and his wife in early Elul [a few weeks before], and thanked the Rabbi for his blessing that had come to fruition.

The Rebbe was overjoyed at the news. For him it was a two-fold celebration. Not only had the long-suffering couple been blessed with a child, finally he could fully rejoice over his mitzvah of the Four Species of the previous Sukkot, which now no longer had a shadow of doubt cast over it.

From then on, each year the Rebbe would receive sometime before Sukkot a beautiful etrog from the grateful Almoni. One year, the messenger who delivered the etrog was a teenaged yeshiva student. This time, however, the usual message that accompanied the delivery was phrased a bit differently.

"I have here the excellent etrog which my father requested of me to deliver to the honorable Rabbi," said the young fellow, bashfully.

The Rabbi, Chaim Meir Yechiel, now well into middle age, stared at the vision in front of him. Tears welled up in his eyes. He extended one hand to receive the box with the etrog and, full of emotion, placed the other on the boy's head.

"Not only are you the bearer of an etrog," he said warmly, "you are the son of an etrog!"


Source: Translated-adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from Sichat Hashavuah #563

Biographical note:
Rabbi Chaim Meir Yechiel Shapira of Mogelnitz (?-5 Iyar 5609/1849) was raised and taught by his maternal grandfather, the Koznitzer Maggid. He married the granddaughter of the Rebbe R. Elimelech of Lyzhinsk. He was also the disciple of four leading figures of his generation: the rebbes of Lublin, Pesichah, Apta, and Ruzhin.

Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

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